UK Home Secretary plans to send graduates home

05, January, 2015

Picture from UK Home Office

Proposals by the UK Home Secretary Theresa May to send non-EU students back to their home countries when they have completed their studies have drawn strong condemnation from the international education community.

According to a story published by the Sunday Times newspaper late last year, May is lobbying for a target of zero student net migration and a policy of ensuring non-EU students leave the country before applying for work visas to be included in the Conservative Party manifesto for the May 2015 general election.

Under the proposals, UK institutions would also be held responsible for ensuring that their non-EU students leave the country.

During May’s tenure as Home Secretary the UK has tightened student visa policy and removed the previous post-study work rights for non-EU students as part of wider plans to meet a pre-election pledge of reducing net migration to ‘tens of thousands’ by this year. She has resisted calls from the education industry to remove non-EU students from migration statistics.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, told Times Higher Education, “Clamping down on genuine international students would not only damage our universities, but would damage our economy.

“If the UK is to remain internationally competitive, it should be looking to broaden, not limit, the opportunities for qualified international students to stay in the UK and work for a period and contribute to the economy,” she said.

Dandridge referred to a recent ICM public opinion poll commissioned by Universities UK that found the majority of respondents were in favour of international students being able to stay and work for a period after completing their studies.

Graham Able, Chair of Exporting Education, a group of UK-based institutions and organisations involved in promoting export across several educational levels, said, “The Home Secretary’s proposed policy would send precisely the wrong message to internationally mobile students considering the UK for their further studies.”

Able also expressed concern about the potential burden of the plans on institutions. “Her suggestion that education providers should be made responsible for ensuring non-EU students’ departure would turn academic administrators into border police and divert precious resources away from the central purpose of academic institutions, which is to educate.”

He further questioned the economic logic of turning away talented international graduates. “The current Tier 2 visa route for skilled workers clearly acknowledges the benefit derived by the UK from skilled foreign graduates. The consistent message from employers, particularly in STEM industries, has been that the UK needs these graduates, not only to fill existing skills gaps but also to help grow the companies that will provide work for UK citizens in the future.”

In a Study Travel Magazine cover story on post-study work rights last year, 56 per cent of agents surveyed in a special poll said that a decline in interest in the UK was the most noticeable trend in relation to demand and work rights. “We have no demand for the UK currently due to work restrictions and no PSW route,” commented one agent based in Pakistan.



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